They say that you should always the read the book before you see the film because the book is normally better but if you see the film first, that is all you will keep in your head. And I totally agree with the statement. The same can also be said for the theatre - you should always see the musical on stage before you see the film of it.
Les Miserables is one of those musicals which I have wanted to see for a long time...since I first gained my interest about the French revolution through A level History. And when Danielle Hope took over as Eponine last year I wanted to even more. But somehow I didn't get around to it until the day before yesterday, a good five years since those sixth form days, one year since Danielle joined the cast and four months since I saw it on the big screen. Which meant, completely by accident, I was comparing it to the film all the way through. Not just the actors, but the way it was done, the staging, the scenery, even the lighting...
Indulging my comparative brain for a moment, I am not sure that I preferred it to the film. At times I felt the stage version was extremely bitty, jumping from one scene to the next with complete changes of scenery sometimes only for a verse of a song which was just a little distracting. Although I do understand that this is the nature of the show, it is definitely more suited to a film where changes in camera angles and scenes are far more common. I also think that the emotions portrayed in the songs during the film were far more strong than I could see in the live show. The benefit of having a few takes to get it right (if necessary) meant that the film actors threw all of their soul into their performances so the audience became completely involved with the emotions they were displaying. This is particularly the case for Eddie Redmayne's Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and Anne Hathaway's I Dreamed a Dream. Saying that, the show performances were definitely not wooden, it was just impossible for them to throw of much of themselves into the role every day of the week as far as the film actors could.
However, ignoring the film as best as I can, the stage version of the musical is pretty awesome in its own merit. And so so different to any other I have seen. Gone are the cheerful songs and bright energetic dance sequences. Gone is dialogue full stop. What remains is a gritty, realistic and very classy piece of theatre which has been very cleverly directed. The dim lighting throughout reiterated the suffering of the characters in the musical and gave you a feel of the terrible poverty in which they lived. This was used to particular effect during Empty chairs at empty tables where Marius was in a dim spotlight while all his friends appeared softly from the mist, only to disappear back into it again by the end of the song. A very effective portrayal of the ghosts who are haunting him. Furthermore, I was continually impressed by the slick scene changes throughout the whole show. As I mentioned earlier there were a huge amount of these, and were all done so smoothly through the combined use of a revolving stage and a clearly talented backstage team. Finally the acting was rather brilliant, particularly from Danielle Hope...I have been a fan of hers ever since I saw her on the TV talent show Over The Rainbow in 2010 and she did not disappoint as a somewhat more tragic Eponine than Samantha Barks portrayed in the film. And I found her death scene truly top notch.
As it is quite mentally draining (with so much death) you definitely have to be in the right mood for this musical but when you eventually go, it is so worth it to see a truly fantastic piece of theatre. It is unlike any of the other 'happy' musicals in the West End at the moment and definitely worth a trip.